I sit in on a lot of church staff meetings. Now, church staff meetings can be incredibly boring, 😴 but they can also be very eye opening into the management issues within a church. 🤔 The one I’m going to touch on today is that churches tend to exclusively measure what we call “lagging indicators” and very rarely measure “leading indicators.” The most commonly used measure lagging: weekly attendance.

Let’s look at solving the lagging indicator issue, but first a few definitions:

Lag Indicators

A lag indicator is a measurement of a result. Examples include attendance, money raised, conversions, widgets produced, etc. Lag indicators tend to be obvious outcomes that are easy to count.

Lead Indicators

A lead indicator is a measurement of an input. Examples include articles written, invites sent, hours spent, expenditure, etc. Lead indicators are activities you do to contribute to a specified result.

Return On Investment (ROI)/Return On Objective (ROO)

We can think of these as a comparison of the efficiency of the lead indicators to produce results in the lag indicators.

Using them in a church

If you are like most churches, you only discuss how many people attended service and/or youth group and how much money is coming in. Those are lagging indicators. They are easy to count, but don’t actually tell us much about how well our team is doing or what we need to change on or within our team. They are nearly impossible to use for staff accountability as well because everyone can just shrug if someone says “attendance was down 75 people this week.” You need to identify some leading indicators! 😎

Here’s a very simple example: you have an annual harvest festival. Last year 2,000 people attended and after that your weekly attendance increased by 50 people. The harvest festival attendance is a lead indicator for growth in weekly attendance. Now we need to ask “what increases attendance at the harvest festival?” Well… God… yeah, but as Paul contends: “how can they believe unless they hear.” 😉 So your leading indicator might really be how many invites are sent and/or how much is spent on advertising for the harvest festival.

Improving ROI/ROO

Improving your ROI/ROO requires experimentation. Maybe you discover that advertising the harvest festival to kids 6-12 and having the harvest festival be a pathway to the kids ministry actually results in 3,000 people attending the harvest festival and then weekly attendance increases by 150 people. In this case, assuming the same inputs of time/expense, we have significantly boosted efficiency and are achieving a better ROI/ROO.

Accountability

Because leading indicators are things your church staff can actually do, they are things that can be measured and evaluated during weekly meetings and/or daily standups. They aren’t things that can be shrugged off like lagging indicators because they tend to be directly actionable in some way, shape, or form. Leading indicators should even form the bulk of your ministry dashboard in your Church Management System or on Microsoft Power BI.

So, don’t stop counting your lagging indicators like attendance or giving, but definitely start looking for the leading indicators that affect those lagging indicators and then hold your staff team accountable to those. Tip: the highest value leading indicators tend to be discipleship related because, in the discipleship progression, disciples make more disciples and it’s really tough to scale a ministry without heavy discipleship investment. 📈